Archived Reading Room

A trio of books all worth a read

A trio of books all worth a read

Before proceeding to reading and books, a note on circumstances and environment.

As I type these words on my laptop, it is 4:45 on a Wednesday morning, and I’m sitting at what sometimes serves as a dining room table. Directly across from me is a row of 15 books for immediate use, a couple awaiting reading and review, the rest used at this moment in time for reference. Fifteen feet away from me in the den — I’ve just paced off this distance — sits a waist-high blue shelf holding a similar collection of literature, topped by a pile of blank paper, a rarely used blood pressure cuff, and a clip of .22 rounds. 

Right now, the table is tidy and clean, but if the usual circumstances assert themselves, by evening books, papers, pens, and objects ranging from a bruised tennis ball to a green repository for dental floss will litter this surface. This is the detritus of writing accrued by slapping words on a screen for a collection of publications. Sisyphus daily rolled his boulder up a steep Tartarian hill; I have the much easier task of nightly restoring order to my battlefield of composition before hitting the sheets. 

But enough of the description and the self-dramatics. Let’s get to some books that have recently snagged my attention and will, I hope, snag yours. 

Joseph Epstein’s “The Ideal of Culture” (Axios Press, 2018, 572 pages) is another excellent collection of essays by this writer, now in his mid-80s, whom many, including myself, esteem as one of America’s greatest contemporary essayists. As usual, Epstein covers a wide range of subjects: literature, old age, humor, death, and the meaning of wit, genius, and cowardice. Several of his other books share a space on my shelves, and I’m proud to add to that rank “The Ideal of Culture,” certain that from time to time I’ll be revisiting these pages. One quibble, however: at least one of these essays has already appeared in another volume, which I don’t understand. This hefty tome needs weight added to its girth as much as I need a diet of Reese’s Cups and malted milkshakes. 

In “Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968” (Holmes & Meier, 1986, 192 pages), Heda Margolis Kovaly gives us an unforgettable memoir of what living as a Czech through Nazism and Soviet communism truly meant. A Jew, Kovaly was arrested by the Nazis, like tens of thousands of others, Jew and non-Jew alike, and shipped off to a camp, where she managed to survive, escaping near the end of the war. 

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A brief respite of freedom followed, and then the communists took over and fulfilled Galbraith’s savage, witty adage. At first, Kovaly and her husband Rudolph, a capable member of the government, lead good lives, benefitted in some ways by the Party, which Kovaly intensely dislikes. That dislike metamorphizes into horror and hatred when Rudolf, like others around him, is arrested and then executed by hanging for being a traitor, leaving his wife and young son as outcasts from the system. Only years later will Kovaly receive the satisfaction, not nearly enough, of seeing her husband’s reputation restored and the government of the killers who murdered him toppled. 

Near the end of her account, Kovaly passes the statue of Jan Hus, a Protestant executed during the Reformation, and sees the “beautiful, deceitful words carved into stone: Truth Prevails.”

She then writes: “Does it? Truth alone does not prevail. When it clashes with power, truth often loses. It prevails only when people are strong enough to defend it.”

Here is a book of courage and cowardice apt for our own time. As for those today who still positively spout words like communism, worker’s paradise, and so on, please, comrades, educate yourselves. And as for those who want a government with greater and greater powers, or who look to D.C. as their mommy, ditto to you. “Under capitalism,” economist John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote, “man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.”

Begin by reading “Under A Cruel Star.” You might next try “The Black Book of Communism” or visiting the recently opened Victims of Communism Museum, which memorializes the more than 100 million victims of communist regimes in the last century. 

Last up on my recent reading list if Naomi Wolf’s “The Bodies of Others: The New Authoritarians, COVID-19 and the War Against the Human” (All Seasons Press, 2022, 350 pages) to which I will return in a future review. Wolf was once an esteemed member of the Liberal social set, but those days are gone. In “The Bodies of Others,” she blends data and events with her personal experiences during the pandemic to tell us that our liberties and our rights, both of which were suspended during the orgy of masks and lockdowns, remain very much in jeopardy. All who read her words have lived through that “crisis,” but many of us seem unaware that the government, corporations — tech companies in particular — and mainstream media all too often followed the strategies of misinformation, suppression, and outright deceit used by totalitarians worldwide. 

In “Under The Cruel Star,” Heda Kovaly writes:

“It is not hard for a totalitarian regime to keep people ignorant. Once you relinquish your freedom for the sake of “understood necessity”…. you cede your claim to truth. Slowly, drop by drop, your life begins to ooze away just as surely as if you had slashed your wrists; you have voluntarily condemned yourself to helplessness.”

My dining room table battleground requires little effort to set in order. The battleground for liberty … that’s another matter altogether. 

(Jeff Minick reviews books and has written four of his own: two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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